March 5, 2019

Youth Ministry and Eucharistic Adoration

Eucharistic Adoration: Contemporary Liturgy


A Millennial journey into the Catholic faith through Eucharistic Devotion

As a Catholic youth, I was always very involved. Beginning with children’s ministry through Sunday school, I learned the Bible study basics from the 12 tribes to the 12 apostles. I served as an altar boy for several years, joined the choir at age 10, and developed a love for liturgical music and the liturgical calendar that would stick with me my entire life. The 10:30 a.m. choir offered me my first opportunity to experience Eucharistic Adoration. Our choir rehearsals coincided with the parish’s Wednesday evening Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction. It was here that “Tantum Ergo,” “O Salutaris Hostia,” and “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” were permanently imprinted on my soul. However, what was not yet there was a personal relationship with the Lord through the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was a great experience — don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t bored. But at 10 years old, I didn’t really understand it — not fully — and my private Catholic education wasn’t truly unpacking what it meant for the Eucharist to be the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. It was just beginning to sink in, but it hadn’t yet touched my heart.

The next step in my faith journey was middle school and high school youth group lessons. I say “lessons” because at the time, my parish youth ministry was seen as an extension of faith formation. Our youth leader didn’t participate in any youth ministry training network. He wasn’t reading blogs on strategies for youth ministry or trolling forums for directors of youth ministry to find a practical guide to youth culture or frequently asked questions. He didn’t have an account with Skit Guys. The youth ministry resources that Frank, my first youth minister, had were a Bible, a Catechism, and paper and pencils. But he had a skill that was before its time. Something that had been brewing in Arizona, Ohio and in many places around the country. Before the sexual abuse scandals that would later rock the Catholic Church, before background checks, before youth ministers went everywhere with a “Barnabas,” there was immense spiritual growth occurring in the same environment that was being preyed upon by evil. That growing spiritual movement was leading the youth of our Catholic churches closer to Christ, and that’s why it was under attack.

Relational ministry: Young people grow spiritually through authentic relationships

Many youth and young adult ministries of the 80s, 90s and recent years were often characterized by two experiences; weekly catechesis and event-based spirituality. These youth events included retreats, conferences, and a mission trip or some other type of outreach event. It was understood by youth and youth workers alike that the experiences of these events filled the tank, so to speak, in order to carry an individual through to the next opportunity and reach that spiritual high point. Carrying that energy forward into the “real world” was always a point of spiritual failure, even for those involved in student leadership. What was often being done in catechesis at youth group didn’t provide for the “soul care” that we needed to make the faith our own, to live our faith authentically. The thing that was missing, the thing that my youth minister Frank really understood, was that authentically lived Christian spirituality is all about relationship. Life Teen defines the idea, “relational ministry,” in this leader guide on how to engage in relational ministry with young people. But before this idea was fully formed, early adopters like Frank were being truly present to their youth through genuine interactions.

In a qualitative study by Saint Mary’s Press of Minnesota, “Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics,” three major groups surfaced among young people who have left the Church (former Catholics age 15-25):

  • Those who were injured in their relationships with individuals in the Church
  • Those who lacked mentors in discipleship and drifted away from the Church
  • Those who dissented from Church teachings

The first two groups indicate a clear disconnect between students, leaders & church ministry. A disconnect that is, fundamentally, a lack of authentic relationships and mentorships. The majority of those surveyed also indicated that they had no experience with Catholic school, religious education, youth ministry or campus ministry. These poor kids had no student resources in their primary or secondary education that would help them build their faith. It’s no wonder they never made it into an “adult ministry.” Coupled with the skyrocketing divorce rates, many did not have positive role models for marriage, family and other in-home relationships either. Pour on top of that the rocket fuel of social media negativity and religious dissent, and it’s amazing that anyone made it through with their faith life intact.

The answer? A personal relationship with the eucharistic Jesus

Many devout Catholics have a strong negative reaction to the question, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” We need to get over that. That question is valid and important. Although often used as a starting point for arguments against the sacraments, this question is exactly what’s been missing from Catholic youth ministry. Offered as a kind word from a youth pastor of another faith, this question has drawn many teens away from their Catholic faith. We were created, after all, for the purpose of being in relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with the Body of Christ, our brothers and sisters in faith. This is the end goal of relational ministry: to bring young people into relationship with Christ by modeling Christ to them in the way we enter into relationships, and to draw them closer to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

My junior year in high school I had a falling out with my friends. I’d known these people since grade school. The people I had grown accustomed to spending all of my free time with became completely absent in my life. There was an aching void in my heart where those relationships had once been. That summer was my first experience with a Steubenville youth conference. It was like any other conference I had been to. I was having a great time, growing closer to my “church friends,” getting that much-needed spiritual high from another youth group event, and then it happened. Jesus Christ walked into the room. I was standing in a room of 5,000 young people waiting for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to begin, when a feeling of warm electric energy dropped me to my knees as Jesus himself, truly present in the form of bread and wine, entered into our presence. A wave of my peers dropping to their knees had started at the door where Jesus had entered and was washing over me. All at once, that empty void in my heart filled to the point of bursting. That warm electric feeling rushed in. It overflowed out of my eyes in tears and out of my mouth in the words, “I love you, too.” This was something new. All I wanted to do that night was spend time with the Lord, and I wept when he left because I missed him. It wasn’t a great catechetical talk that taught me that the actual body and blood of Christ were truly present in the Holy Eucharist. It was the Lord Jesus, exposed, there in the monstrance.

From that moment on, my life was fundamentally changed. I would stumble and fall, of course — many times in fact — after that moment. However, this first experience of eucharistic worship was a defining moment when I could first say that I had a personal relationship with the eucharistic Jesus. Worship of the Eucharist was a beginning point for me, but it was an end point for the youth leaders who had been involved in relational ministry with me throughout my junior year. The work those leaders had done to prepare me to enter into relationship with God through Holy Communion may well lead me one day to eternal life. The following year, my senior year, I spent my free period every day at Mass. I began to pray the rosary daily and hunger for holy hours, to spend an hour with Jesus in the Perpetual Adoration chapel. As a result of this experience, I began a career in youth ministry and music ministry. I wanted to give what I had received, to the best of my abilities. This year, two separate young people approached me and told me about a similar experience in Adoration through our retreats through Our Lady of the Lake. One young woman, whom I thought had been very disconnected from our faith, told me she heard Jesus speak to her. Not in audible words, but in her heart, and the message was just two words: “You Matter.” She spent the evening weeping because it was exactly what her heart was longing to hear.

Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass

So, what is it about Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass that seems to draw the Catholic faithful, especially young people, into a deeper worship of the Eucharist? This is not in any way a judgment on the liturgy. The liturgy is our communal celebration together as the Body of Christ, and it is beautiful and filled with Scripture and rich meaning, and hymns with beautiful text, and interaction with each other. The unfortunate reality of this experience though, is that there is not much time to sit and ponder the presence of God. I think this is part of the reason that the great saints were all drawn into devotion to the Holy Sacrament, wherever the reserved sacrament was made available. The open-ended question is, what now? How do we bring young people to understand that the same Jesus, with whom they have these profound experiences in the monstrance, is present on the altar at every Mass in the same way?

I’ll pick this up at another time, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Head over to Facebook where this article is posted on the OCPmusic page, and share your ideas with me.

The challenge in creating these experiences for young people is that due to current events and technology they are often completely uncomfortable in silence, or even in personal unstructured prayer. So here are some tips for setting up an Adoration service for young people.

A preparation guide to Adoration with youth and young adults:

  • Environment: Dim the lights and, if you can, add some mood lighting to the sanctuary or whatever space you are using. This helps young people to feel like their prayer experience is not on display, and it also helps to highlight the importance of what is taking place. It’s good to place a spotlight, or bright light onto the monstrance in a way that illuminates the Eucharist. Encourage the generous use of incense.
  • Hospitality: Have greeters present to welcome participants, and encourage an atmosphere of silent reverence beforehand. Invite attendees to some form of fellowship afterwards.
  • Lead by example: Young people need to see their leaders vulnerable and “all-in” for Christ. Be a model for them in the way you sing, in your postures of prayer, and in your attitude.
  • Message: Someone should offer an appropriate message before things get started, explaining Eucharistic Adoration for youth who may not be familiar with it, and inviting attendees into active participation.
  • Music: In an Adoration experience, the focus is on Jesus. This creates some challenges for musicians. Worship aides aren’t really appropriate for Adoration because they take the focus off of the monstrance. Slides can also be distracting if the songs selected are text heavy. Pick songs the community knows well, and repeat choruses and bridges often, so that people can participate without losing focus on the presence of Jesus. It should also go without saying that musicians and projectors should give the Blessed Sacrament plenty of breathing room. Don’t set up too close to the altar. This can be a challenge on stages.
  • Eucharistic procession: Where space allows, process the Eucharist through the worship space. (Note: If celebrating in the church building itself, the Eucharist will need to leave the building and come back inside to remain in line with the rubrics for processions of the Eucharist.)
  • Silence: Be sure to include silence into the experience, but not right away. Midway through the service either stop playing music entirely, or play only very simple and subdued instrumental music.
  • Prayer: Make your ministry team available at prayer stations for young people who would like to be prayed over.
  • Confession: Where schedules allow, provide for confession during Adoration, so that young people moved by the experience have the opportunity to take advantage of the sacrament.

Jesus waits for you

So, there you have it — a beginners guide to setting up an Adoration service with young people. On the Adoration page where this blog is linked, you will also find a list of song suggestions and some other helpful documents about setting up an Adoration service. As previously stated, the best way to create a Eucharistic Devotion in the young people that you serve is to model the behavior yourself.

Go visit the Blessed Sacrament! Jesus is waiting for you! If you don’t observe one already, consider a weekly holy hour for yourself. Perpetual adorers of the Blessed Sacrament receive many graces from our Lord. These graces are waiting for you there in front of the tabernacle or monstrance. If you don’t know what to do for an hour, take your rosary and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet along with the Rosary. Jesus and Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, will pray with you, as will all the saints and angels if you ask them. That’s 30 to 40 minutes. Then just spend some quiet time with the Lord listening. You may be saying to yourself, “Jethro, I’m the leader. Why are you suggesting to me methods of prayer?” In my experience it is extremely common for youth leaders and music ministers to focus all of their time and energy into their programs and neglect their own spiritual well-being. You can’t give that which you don’t have, but that doesn’t stop many of us from trying. I’ve made that mistake, and I know many others do, too. Maybe your prayer life is going amazingly, and that’s great! However, I know that I constantly need encouragement to keep at it, and your colleagues probably do, too.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes about Adoration.

8 quotes revealing the beauty of the Eucharist in Adoration

“This is the wonderful truth, my dear friends: the Word, which became flesh two thousand years ago is present today in the Eucharist.” – Pope St. John Paul II
“When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.” – Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
"Let us beseech the Lord to reawaken in us the joy at his presence and that we may once more adore him. Without adoration, there is no transformation of the world." – Pope Benedict XVI
“Look upon the hour of adoration assigned to you as an hour in paradise. Go to your adoration as one would to heaven, to the divine banquet. You will then long for that hour and hail it with joy. Take delight in fostering a longing for it in your heart. Tell yourself, "In four hours, in two hours, in one hour, our Lord will give me an audience of grace and love. He has invited me; he is waiting for me; he is longing for me." – St. Peter Julian Eymard
"In this Sacrament of Love, Jesus Christ waits for us. Let us not fail to be generous in giving our time to Jesus in adoration, contemplating him in faith, ready to make reparation for our own transgressions, large and small, and for the offenses of the world." – Pope Saint John Paul II
"We should never again use the expression, 'When Jesus was on earth' or think of him as being only in heaven, Jesus is still on earth." – Fr. John Hardon, S.J.
“The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in Heaven, and will help bring about everlasting peace on earth.” – Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
"Never stop urging your faithful, as they approach the Mystery of the Eucharist, to learn to embrace the Church's cause as their own, to pray to God without slackening, to offer themselves to God as an acceptable sacrifice for the peace and unity of the Church." – Pope St. Paul VI in “Mysterium Fedei”

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Jethro Higgins

Jethro Higgins


Jethro Higgins, father of 6,  has Directed Youth & Young Adult ministry programs and led liturgical music ensembles since 2004. Jethro received his Master of Science in Business Analysis from the Catholic University of America and is currently studying at The Augustine Institute in the Master of Arts in Theology program.